Why 17 Republican Senators Should Vote to Convict

The first Senate trial of Donald Trump, January 2020

Conventional wisdom holds that former president Donald Trump — though evidently guilty — will be acquitted in a constitutionally appropriate Senate trial that begins Tuesday.

I am not so sure.

It is true all but five Republican senators out of 50 supported Trump in a test vote on the constitutionality of holding a trial of a public official no longer in office. But, in another vote, on the structure of the trial, only 17 Republicans voted against organizing the Senate for the trial. Probably neither vote is a reliable guide to the final tally.

Meeting between Presidents Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine and Donald Trump

To be sure, the Republican Party — including Republican members of Congress — steadfastly has ignored Trump’s many indiscretions, misdeeds, and illegal actions during his presidency. Republicans looked the other way as evidence of his collusion with Russia during the 2016 election mounted. They closed their eyes to his attempt to extort Ukraine for his own political gain. They remained silent during his many racist, xenophobic, and misogynistic tweets and public comments. 

Democrats will not succeed in finding the requisite 17 Republican votes — assuming all 50 Democrats vote to convict — by invoking the GOP’s “better angels.” No appeal to the rule of law and constitutional safeguards will sway enough Republicans. The likelihood of 17 Republicans acting on a political issue through the prism of morality is very slim. That train — the one linking Republicans with moral behavior — left the station a long time ago. It was only a one-car train.

No, any possibility that 17 Republicans will agree that Trump is guilty rests not on what is right but on what is politic. And, on that basis, I can envision enough Republican senators voting to convict because of some important trends buffeting the Republican Party in recent weeks.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell

The trial reveals the civil war within the Republican Party between the Trump wing and the more moderate, business-oriented faction. The latter group — led by Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell — tolerated Trump and his so-called populist appeals because both wings approved of the tax cuts enacted early in the Trump administration and the appointment of right-wing judges to the federal judiciary. Any revulsion among more moderate Republicans over Trump’s actions paled before the success he had in bringing new voters to the Republican Party and raising money for the party’s coffers. But, since Trump left the White House, many Republicans are finding reason to question his ability to bring his loyal followers to the polls and his knack for raising money.

Trump’s political success rested on his ability to spread disinformation among his supporters. In recent weeks, his command of social media and the air waves has been compromised, limiting his reach among Trumpistas. Two social media giants, Twitter and Facebook, have banned Trump, denying the former president his most effective tools for communicating directly with his followers. Other platforms have followed suit. 

FOX Business has dropped Lou Dobbs from its roster after the anchor was named in a lawsuit brought by Smartmatic

Lawsuits and legal threats from small technology companies are curtailing the flow of misinformation in right-wing media. FOX Business canceled its top-rated show, “Lou Dobbs Tonight,” last week after Dobbs, one of the most vociferous conduits of lies about electoral fraud, was named in a $2.7 billion lawsuit brought by Smartmatic. Another pro-Trump channel, Newsmax, cut off a guest who ranted about electoral fraud. Dominion Voting Systems, another company accused by Trump and his acolytes of rigging votes, has sued two of Trump’s lawyers, Rudy Giuliani and Sidney Powell, effectively silencing them.

Money certainly talks, and with Trump deprived of access to social media and right-wing television outlets limiting their recitation of rigged voting, Trump and his sycophants are finding it increasingly difficult to shape the narrative in ways favorable to Trump. And, in the realm of political fundraising, major Republican donors now are unwilling to donate to anyone who voted to challenge the counting of electoral votes on January 6, 2021. Nothing concentrates the mind of a politician more than an inability to rake in big money!

Marjorie Taylor Greene

Thousands of Republicans have ditched the party since the January 6 insurrection. Trump’s approval rating has plummeted amid his wild accusations following the election, and in a new poll, 56 percent of Americans say Trump should be convicted and barred from holding office again. Republican politicians can read these tea leaves, and they also know that, with Trump in the White House, the party lost the House, the Senate, and the presidency after capturing all three in 2016. If Republicans could not win with Trump as president, how can they expect electoral success now, given all these adverse trends? It will only get worse for the GOP if the party allows Republican Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia to be its public face. Her support of wackadoodle QAnon conspiracy theories and mouthing of anti-Semitic and racist rhetoric will drive more money and more votes from the Republican Party.  

Some Republican senators are ignoring the obvious and blaming House Speaker Nancy Pelosi for the January 6 insurrection or claiming the rioters were really “Antifa” supporters masquerading as Trumpistas. But, Mitch McConnell and his more centrist allies know better. They also know that the only way to staunch the bleeding — the thousands deserting the party and the drying up of political funds — is to cauterize the wound. It only takes 17 Republicans to do the right thing (more, if not all Democrats vote to convict).

Who cares if they base their decision on political grounds?

Posted February 9, 2021

Comments are closed.